Thursday, December 29, 2011

SF, Utopia and Future Economics

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote an interesting piece recently on the difficulties of writing about utopias, located here:

His piece has a lot of interesting points, of which I don't agree with many, but there were two points I wanted to address right now: his thought about our choices going forward and his point about planned economics.

KSR believes that we have two choices:  utopia or catastrophe.  We can no stumble along, he believes, with mediocrity.  Unfortunately, I'm sure we will - we always have.  Moreover, his idea of utopia ("paleolithic with good dental care") sounds pretty crappy to me.

KSR also says "let’s briefly contemplate some of the utopian descriptions and blueprints out there today. Take the work of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, for example, their ‘Participatory Economics’...a non-capitalist co-operative society in which people band together in small collectives, and then, instead of buying and selling things like a company, they fill out lots of requisition forms,... Now, with much more computing power than it would actually take to run such a non-market society, the idea is there to be contemplated again..."

As Hayek pointed out, the efficiency advantage of market economies lies in their distributed computations and ability to quickly process cost/demand information - much faster than any planners.  KSR's thought is that, while in the past no planner could match market transactions, perhaps modern supercomputers could do so.

The problem, in this thought, is that supercomputers are themselves the product of a highly complicated economic system.  I suspect that while a supercomputer can calculate economic systems simpler than its own, it would be taxed by a modern economy.  Perhaps we can formulate this as a "law:"

"No cybernetic system is able to model the economy that produced it."

Of interest to SF writers/readers, could a society import a central planner able to run it? Hmmm.....


  1. When did you talk to Selma Hayek? And why were you discussing economics?

  2. @David Schram - it's "Salma," and her classic "The Road to Serfdom and Good to Great Hair" is a must-read